Heath: Our guest this week on Truth in Love is Andrew Rogers, a fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the pastor of Soul Care at College Park Church. We are talking about the crucial issue of guilt. We live in a fallen world where people are guilty and struggle with feelings of guilt. And perhaps you or someone you know and love is struggling with guilt. We want to talk about that this week. Andrew, what is authentic guilt as it is understood from the biblical perspective?
Andrew: From a biblical perspective one is declared guilty; it’s objective. God has said that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Elsewhere in James it says, “If you violate one portion of the law, you have violated the whole law.” It is a given fact that either you have crossed the line or you have not crossed the line. Either you have missed the mark or you have not missed the mark. It is an objective thing. You are declared guilty. In this case, we are all declared guilty of sin.
Heath: So this is the problem that all of humanity has: We are objectively guilty from a biblical perspective.
Andrew: Every person.
Heath: Now, that is very different than the way we talk about guilt as Western Christians. A lot of times people in Western culture, or Christians in that culture, will talk about how they feel guilty. What is being discussed there and how do we think about that from a biblical perspective?
Andrew: There’s a lot being discussed there. That’s part of the problem. You can’t just walk away and say, “Oh, this is what guilt is.” A lot of times in our secular world we want to minimize guilt. We have come up with terms like “false guilt”. We don’t want people to feel guilty anymore. It is seen as the enemy of human flourishing. People are not healthy mentally if they are feeling any form of guilt. So we try to eradicate it. Often times it is minimized with sayings like, “No, you’re not really guilty. You haven’t done anything wrong.” or “There’s no reason for you to feel guilty.” In some cases, we try to mask it with things like drugs or other kinds of wanton behavior so that we can have more pleasure in place of the guilt that oftentimes is uncomfortable. Guilt is a grab bag of so many different things, which is why it is so important for us not to minimize it. This is why we have to ask a lot of questions to determine why someone is experiencing what they describe as that “feeling of guilt.”
Heath: Is it ever appropriate for a Christian to say, “I just feel guilty.”
Andrew: It is appropriate in the sense that they are making an objective assessment of what is going on. What is not appropriate is not to go any further. They need to at least figure out what is happening to make them feel this way. Questions need to be asked, like: “Why am I experiencing this right now? How does Scripture help me understand that?” In some cases guilt is really good and that feeling of guilt is great. It is good that you are feeling guilty because you may indeed have a guilty conscience, and it is a conscience that has been informed biblically.
When you think about David committing the sin against Bathsheba, you see that he has a wonderful repentance full of sorrow in Psalm 51. But in Psalm 32 you have his testimony of what life was like when he did not confess his sin. When you think about some of the things David describes, it is apparent that this is what some people are actually experiencing. When people feel like their entire life juices are being dried up as if it was under the feverish heat of summer. They feel dead inside. For David, he recognized that it was because he had unconfessed sin and he needed to address that. And in some cases people are feeling that way for the wrong reasons. For example: I was raised all my life to push in my chair. When we stand up today, you are going to see me push in my chair. And if I leave a restaurant and I haven’t pushed in my chair, there’s a sense of guilt. I feel guilty! I was raised that you push in your chair. So my conscience was informed that way. Now, if I don’t push in that chair, am I liable of God’s wrath? Absolutely not. But the point is that my conscience has been informed by that childhood upbringing. And it is a standard created by man. So am I guilty of violating that standard of man? Yes. So I have to make certain that I am informing my conscience biblically.
Heath: Real life situation. Let’s say I am a man who has abused my wife. I’ve balled up my hand and punched her in the face with my fist. I have done that as a person who confesses Christ, as a member of a faithful church, and my wife and I go to a pastor at that church and we say, “Here is what I did. I want help.” And we begin to pursue change there. I seek the Lord’s forgiveness, I seek the forgiveness of my wife, I’m working to grow and to change, but I sit with you several weeks after we’re making progress, and with tears I just say, “I feel so guilty. What can I do about this guilt?” What would we say to someone like that?
Andrew: First and foremost, there is a sense that I’m glad. I’m glad that there’s a sorrow, in the sense that there is a sorrow because you violated God’s law and you caused harm to another person. So the fact that you are feeling sorrowful that you didn’t love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and you did not love another as yourself is wonderful. The question now is, “What do you do with that?” In other words, are you beating yourself up over it? Are you engaging in some sort of penance where you’re wanting to cause yourself pain? Are you giving her gifts, trying to “do enough” to make up for it? That’s what I’m concerned about. Or are you indeed taking that to the Cross of Christ? Are you confessing that and recognizing: “Lord I am absolutely sorrowful for what I did. It was awful. Absolutely awful. It was atrocious. It was abhorrent. And I thank you so much that you have forgiven me.” Once again this is coming back to Psalm 32. Right at the beginning David says, “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and whose spirit there is no deceit.” The beauty of that is the complete sin of a person can be completely met with the forgiveness in Christ. So I want to make certain he is handling it in the right way. He will experience that sorrow. That does not just go away. We do not merely accept the forgiveness of Christ, embrace the forgiveness of Christ, know that we are forgiven, and then never have that experience of sorrow or regret over some of the actions we have had. The guilt doesn’t necessarily go away. And to a certain extent that is ok. But what do you do with that feeling of guilt? That is what I really want to work with that man about. Are you going to Christ about it? Are you resting in the atonement of Jesus Christ? Are you resting in the grace of Christ?
Heath: So we would say whether you are objectively guilty or whether you are feeling guilty, we need to fly to Jesus Christ.
Andrew: Absolutely. That is absolutely the answer. We are to confess our sins, knowing that he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
For more information about counseling people who struggle with guilt, check out Andrew Roger’s breakout session from the 2016 ACBC Annual Conference.